- By Uri Friedman
Uri Friedman is deputy managing editor at Foreign Policy. Before joining FP, he reported for the Christian Science Monitor, worked on corporate strategy for Atlantic Media, helped launch the Atlantic Wire, and covered international affairs for the site. A proud native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he studied European history at the University of Pennsylvania and has lived in Barcelona, Spain and Geneva, Switzerland.
The debate over whether Israel will strike Iran’s nuclear facilities is awash in deadlines, some of which have already come and gone. On Thursday night, Benjamin Netanyahu added his voice to the mix. “We’re not standing with a stopwatch in hand,” the Israeli prime minister and sanctions skeptic explained in his first interviews since returning from Washington this week. “It’s not a matter of days or weeks, but also not of years.”
The takeaway? Netanyahu conveniently skipped over one popular unit of time: months. Hence headlines today like “Netanyahu: Strike on Iran’s Nuclear Facilities Possible Within Months.”
The troubling talk of months-long timelines coincided with some unsettling rhetoric from past and current U.S. officials. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta noted that the Pentagon has been preparing various military options for striking Iran “for a long time,” while an Air Force general boasted of a 30,000-pound bunker-busting bomb that could be a “great weapon” in a clash with Iran. Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen darkly observed that when it comes to Iran, there’s no Red Phone. Politico reports:
“I am concerned because we have had no effective communication with the Iranians since 1979,” the retired Navy admiral said at the CERAWeek energy conference here. “Even in the darkest moments of the Cold War, we had several lines of communications with the Soviets. Even when we could completely disagree — which we did on many things — we had relationships.”
“We have none of those with the Iranians,” he added. “So I worry that we don’t understand each other, we will miscalculate and in through that miscalculation things could spin in a very bad direction.”
Iran meter: Arguably, the key word in Netanyahu’s statement last night was not “weeks” or “years” but “we’re.” Several reports over the last 24 hours have highlighted the fact that the Israeli prime minister isn’t the only person who will decide whether to go ahead with an attack on Iran, and that reality could inhibit Israeli military action. At the Daily Beast, Eli Lake profiles the eight-man Israeli security cabinet that would need to approve of a strike — support that is not guaranteed. Meanwhile, other influential Israelis are speaking out against a preemptive attack. In an interview posted by 60 Minutes, former Israeli intelligence chief Meir Dagan (pictured above with Bibi) suggests fomenting regime change in Tehran instead.
What’s more, two new polls indicate that most Israelis oppose a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran. And, as Daniel Levy has argued at Foreign Policy, politics matters in Netanyahu’s calculations. Frankly, the most worrying news today may have been Mullen’s warning about a lack of communication between Washington and Tehran. If a confrontation is indeed only months away, the United States doesn’t have much time to rectify that situation.